The votes have been cast, the numbers have been added up and the results are in. No, not the outcome of an election but the latest ranking of hit consumer products in Japan. The list, published twice a year by the Nikkei Marketing Journal, is essential reading for anyone interested in what Japanese shoppers are buying.
The list for January to June is filled with products that show the continued singularity of the Japanese market as well as the triumph of successful advertising. Right up there is Kirin Beverage Company’s Mets Cola. The first-ever cola “health drink”, it claims to stop the absorption of fat into the body. The marketing campaign targeted men who are happy to eat burgers and fried chicken but, for some reason, are watching their waistline when it comes to fizzy drinks. It clearly worked: 1.4 million cases were sold in the first month and Kirin can’t produce enough to keep up with demand.
Another winner is Orangina. Formerly a French staple in a distinctive glass bottle, the orange soda was bought by the Japanese drinks giant Suntory and has recently been relaunched. Thanks to an ad campaign featuring Richard Gere and a sunny French village, sales of the soft drink have rocketed and production has been doubled.
Asahi Breweries has its own hit – Asahi Dry Zero, the latest in a line of alcohol-free beers that are doing big business in Japan. With the line “It is a non-alcohol beverage so you can enjoy it without worrying about the next working day,” the equivalent of 33 million bottles was sold in the first four months.
Other favourites include Peach Aviation, the low-cost airline that started operating from Osaka in March, and Toyota’s new star vehicle, the Aqua, a compact hybrid that was released in December and is already Japan’s second-best-selling car.
The most successful film between January and June was the time travel comedy Thermae Romae, Baths of Rome, the unlikely story of Lucius, a Roman bathhouse architect – played by the popular model-turned-actor Hiroshi Abe – who finds himself transported to a modern-day Japanese public bath. It’s a bizarre storyline but the film is based on a hit manga of the same name by Mari Yamazaki, which has sold more than 5 million copies. It has all the hallmarks of an epic and was even filmed – with 2,000 extras – at Rome’s fabled Cinecitta studios.
And the top product for the first half of 2012? It was Tokyo Skytree. The world’s tallest freestanding tower has been a runaway success, attracting a million visitors in its first five days and 5.8 million in its first month, one fifth of its annual target of 32 million. While reports are already surfacing that the local area is losing business as tourist spending is sucked into the Skytree, it seems that anyone with a space inside the complex will be rubbing their hands with glee.
As for predictions for the second half of the year, that list will no doubt include the usual baroque assortment of hot weather products that appear every summer. One contender must be Kirin’s Ichiban Shibori Frozen Draft, a draft beer topped with a frozen head that is served like a soft ice cream. Or how about Fujiya’s drinkable cream puffs? Having proved their hit potential when they were launched in Tokyo Station, they are now being sold at 100 Fujiya outlets around the city. Japanese companies have a knack of dreaming up products that consumers never even knew they wanted, so we’ll just have to wait and see.